"Our State Fair is the best state fair. Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late. (Our state fair is great) It’s dollars to doughnuts at our state fair. It’s the best state fair in our state."
"State Fair" was a musical first seen in movie theaters in 1945 and re-released in 1962. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the above tune in the movie, based on the Iowa State Fair.
This week and next, folks from every corner of Iowa will gather for the annual celebration of all that’s good in our state – from animals to foods to entertainment to rides to fast cars and strong tractors to exhibits to politicians and, yes, even butter cows.
Finding someone in Iowa who hasn’t visited the state fair, I believe, would be next to impossible. I can’t imagine anyone living here who hasn’t, at least once in a lifetime, taken in the state fair. That would almost seem, well, un-Iowan.
Many years ago, when schools in Iowa were not allowed to begin class until after Labor Day, the state fair ran during the last days of August and ended the week of Labor Day. But, alas, Iowa schools have begun classes earlier and earlier (Waukee starts this week, believe it or not!) and state fair officials have responded by moving the starting date of the fair earlier each year. Now it starts the first week of August and the 10 days of the fair are normally among the hottest days Iowans experience all year.
This year, though, the people who forecast our weather tell us that it won’t be nearly as hot, even though the mid-80s are tough enough for lots of us to bear, especially if the humidity rises to higher levels. That means that my bride, Judy, and I are tentatively planning to spend a day at the fair and we’re both quite looking forward to the experience once again after missing the past several years at the fair.
I’m certain we’ll sample some of the foods offered (Judy admits her favorite fair treats are cotton candy and corn dogs; I’ve always been partial to foot long hot dogs myself) and we’ll see as much as time and my old legs will allow.
Even though we’ll have plenty to see at the fair, there are some things that have passed into history long ago. No longer will we see two steam locomotives crash head on before a packed grandstand; we won’t see a bi-plane race around the half-mile track against a speeding race car; we won’t see an airplane crash into a building.
I remember the days when the huge grandstand would be packed with fans to watch the likes of Barney Oldfield, Indianapolis 500 winner Ralph DePalma, Fred Horey, Emory Collins and Gus Schrader slide dangerously through the turns in their open wheel speedway-type cars. I remember guys like Ernie Derr, Ramo Stott, Dick Hutcherson and Eddie Andersen race for 200 or 250 laps and folks sitting on the edges of their seats for the entire afternoon marathons.
I remember when The Beach Boys filled the grandstand and pounded out music that certainly did give us all "good vibrations," and I remember when the late Dic Youngs hosted the "Rock ‘n Roll Reunion" shows and a boppin’ bunch of old-timers danced in the aisles, clapped their hands and stomped their feet to the music with which we all grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s. I remember the Old Mill Stream where it was almost a right of passage for teenagers to steal a kiss in the dark passages of the tunnel.
I remember wide-eyed kids with smiles on their faces and cotton candy or sno-cones or chocolate-dipped ice cream bars urging their parents to "hurry up" as they walked hurriedly toward the big midway and all its thrilling rides. I remember stopping atop the tall two-wheeled Ferris wheel and looking out of a big part of Des Moines east side and thinking how brave we were to be there in the first place.
I remember Roy Rogers and Dale Evans one year at the fair and that led me to think about Roy’s horse Trigger, Dale’s dog Bullet and Pat Brady driving around in his cantankerous Jeep he called "Nellybelle."
Those things are all now a part of the Iowa State Fair history. I’m sure when we visit this week or next, Judy and I will find lots of new things. Those "new things" now will one day also become memories for the many youngsters who’ll visit the fair this week and one day look back at the fun they had "way back when."
One thing won’t change, and never will. The words penned by Oscar Hammerstein II all those years ago will ring true then just as they do now: "Our state fair is a great state fair. Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late."